Tapering like a marathon pro | 16 of 26 Marathon Series

There are many important factors to a successful marathon, but the taper is one of the most important to get right. A lot of runners do this wrong or don’t realise the importance of the taper; here we explain why and how to taper like a pro.

Why Taper?

You have spent months training for your marathon and although you won’t necessarily feel it, your body is damaged from all of that hard graft. And although you’ll feel at your peak, if you give your body a reduction in workload then it will repair and improve significantly; thus boosting your marathon performance.

The Ideal Taper

A marathon taper starts 3 weeks before the race day, and it’s a fine balance between reducing your training enough for your body to benefit from the rest whilst training enough that you don’t lose fitness. You’ll be battling against your innate desire to train harder, as tapering is counterintuitive, but stay strong and trust the science; there’s a reason why all the pros taper…it works!

Three Weeks Before the Marathon

You will be starting the taper the day after your longest training run (around 20-22 miles for most people), your goal this week is to “introduce” the taper to your body whilst maintaining the training intensity.

  • Reduce your weekly mileage by 15-20% of your peak mileage – So if you peaked at 40 miles a week knock 6 miles off your weekly total, if you peaked at 50 then reduce by 7.5 miles etc. Considering most people peak just before the taper this should be easy to work out.
  • Reduce your longest run distance by 15-20% – While it’s still important at this stage to have a long run once a week, it is definitely worth scaling it back by this percentage; as it’s the long runs that have the most detrimental effect on fatigue.
  • Maintain your training intensity – Although the taper will eventually have you jogging slowly, at this stage you still need to maintain your intensity and pace; just reduce distance to reduce accumulated fatigue.
  • Increase your protein intake – You want to focus on ensuring that you are giving the body a bit more than it needs to recover, so aim for around 1.5-1.7 grams of protein for every kilo of your bodyweight.
start to work out
Schedule your ‘Running Calendar’ to taper like a pro!

Two Weeks Before the Marathon

This is the week where you also start to properly reduce intensity and really start to reduce that accumulated fatigue that has built up in the months of hard marathon training.

  • Avoid hills, speedwork and cross-training – At this stage these sorts of workouts only create risk of injury and won’t benefit your marathon attempt, so cut out any high intensity workouts.
  • Slow down! – All of your runs should be reduced in pace by 1 or 2 minutes per mile (less for faster runners and more for slower runners) except for one shorter race day pace run midweek.
  • Reduce overall mileage to 70% off your maximum mileage – So using the example above reduce from 40 miles per week to 28.
  • Cut your longest run in half – You shouldn’t really be exceeding 10 miles now as your longest run, again it’s the long runs that create the accumulated fatigue and this is what you need to eliminate now.
  • Maintain energy consumption – Many people think that as you are now running less you should eat less, but the opposite is true. You need to give your body all the fuel it needs to recover so maintain calorie and protein consumption.

Week Before the Marathon

OK this is where the taper can get very hard mentally, you have to realise that your training is now complete; it’s all about managing your anxiety. Technically you could stop training completely and it would not have a negative effect on your marathon; but a few easy runs and mental preparations will help give you a final boost.

  • Limit any runs to no more than 4 miles – The training benefit of any runs this week is negligible so aim for 2-3 runs of no more than 4 miles.
  • Stay slow and relaxed – Stay at the slow pace of a minute or two in each mile, less than your marathon pace and focus on your breathing and just relax and enjoy the runs for what they are.
  • Rest 2 days before and run the day before – Many coaches advocate a very light 2 mile jog the day before the marathon, just to calm nerves and help you sleep better; but definitely have a complete rest day the day before that.
  • De-Stress – Anxiety and stress will both hinder your performance. So try to take a few days off work either side of the marathon; avoid late nights, maybe book into a spa (avoid massage, unless you are well accustomed – as this can cause muscular damage) and don’t watch or read the news!

That’s it, good luck! Remember the taper is one of the most important parts of your marathon preparations, but try not to stress out about it, remember you can only ever over do it; not under do it at this stage.

Here is the next blog article in our marathon series:

17. The Perfect Pre-Race Meal

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Ryan has worked in the sports industry since 1999 and has a wealth of experience across most subjects. Ryan holds a BSc in microbiology and has studied sports physiology in great detail in his own time. His main areas of specialisation are: footwear construction, footwear technology, strength & conditioning and anatomy & physiology. He splits his 13 hours a week exercise between, Kickboxing, MMA, Crossfit, Rock Climbing and Running.